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  • Writer's pictureCraig Milley

Wayfinding in Procurement

I've always been fascinated by the ability of the earliest explorers to navigate great distances across oceans without the aid of modern navigation tools like maps, sextants, compasses, or GPS. Consider the Polynesians or the Norsemen who traveled great distances over open water using only the sun, moon, stars and of course their wits and ability to read the oceans. These were the earliest wayfinders.

According to the Oxford English dictionary wayfinding is defined as "the process or activity of ascertaining one's position and planning and following a route".

The wayfinding process generally involves four distinct steps

  1. Orientation is the attempt to determine one's location, in relation to objects that may be nearby and the desired destination.

  2. Route decision is the selection of a course of direction to the destination.

  3. Route monitoring is checking to make sure that the selected route is heading towards the destination.

  4. Destination recognition is when the destination is recognized.[1]

Today the term has largely been co-opted by the architectural community to describe the process for moving people through buildings, spaces and the environment. Think of the last time you stepped off the plane at an airport you were arriving at for the first time. If it were not for the signage and the design built into the airport you would find it extremely difficult to move from terminal to terminal or gate to gate or find your luggage without getting lost. If you reached your departure gate with time to spare the airport was likely employing advanced wayfinder techniques.

As a long time procurement professional, I believe, there is much we can learn from understanding the principles of wayfinding from our colleagues in the architectural world. In our day to day lives we are often faced with clients who are lost and disoriented, confused by all the rules, and struggling to get to their departure gate before the plane leaves the airport. Our job fundamentally is to create procurement processes that naturally orient the client, help them decide on a route, monitor their progress through the sometimes arduous procurement process, often with course corrections, and finally get them to their destination.

If your procurement process can only be understood by other procurement professionals it might be time to reexamine how you explain and communicate it. Think again of the passenger arriving at the airport to check in. No one gives them a procedure manual to follow. They start at the front door and immediately look for a sign to the check in counter or kiosk. Everything is visual – signs, symbols, arrows, landmarks, sometimes overhead, sometimes on the floor. It’s a myriad of instructions that the traveler absorbs and if it is done well gets them to the departure gate on time.

The challenge for procurement people is to transition from the written text instructions that we all rely on to a more visual approach. In your next interaction with a client see it as opportunity to navigate with them in a different way. 

Be a wayfinder!

  1. Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler. Universal Principles of Design. (Rockport Publishers, Beverly, MA, 2010) p. 260.

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